My life’s mission is to put humanity back into business. As a user experience consultant, guiding technology companies on how to make their products easier and more pleasurable to use, I get to work towards this every day. But I’ve come to realize that user experience is not enough. Designing the product is all for naught if you don’t first take time to design the organization.
Though I’ve spent the last eight years helping businesses build greater empathy for their customers, a culture shift can only occur when they take the time to build greater empathy for one another. I want to show them how.
As a consultant, I do the heavy lifting for my clients: lead projects, establish process, produce deliverables and solve problems. But in the end, they are outsourcing their empathy. Once I’m gone, things tend to go back to the way they were.
I want to help my clients help themselves. It’s just not effective to tell them what to do, or worse, to do it for them; they have to discover their own right path. I no longer want to train skills, I want to develop capacities. I want to work with individuals and teams who strive to make a lasting impact on their organizations and themselves personally. And I believe the best way to do that is as their coach.
In order for organizational change to last, it has to happen simultaneously from the top down and the bottom up; the former alone is inauthentic, the latter alone is inefficient. My goal is to coach both product teams and senior leaders. While my educational background and decade of experience in UX give me the credibility and technical know-how needed to engage with implementation teams of designers and developers, the strategic and operational drivers in a mature organization require a different set of credentials and methods. That is why I’m ready to invest in becoming a certified professional coach.
It’s not my style to get things done quickly and easily without regard for quality and rigor. After extensive research on the discipline of professional coaching, the credentials offered by the International Coach Federation, and the wide array of accredited coaching training programs, I realized that the right program for me would take place in person over an extended period of time, with a particular focus on coaching the whole person (not just their professional “self”) and a philosophy that a coach must undertake ￼their own self-development before they are qualified to aid in the development of others. That program is New Ventures West.
I found out I was accepted last night. What you are reading was my application essay.
As an only child, native New Yorker, natural introvert and sole proprietor, I am quite accustomed to taking care of myself. While I’m incredibly proud of all I have achieved, my independence has been both a blessing and curse. My need for self-reliance has often meant an inability to rely on others, a reluctance to trust, and an regretful judgmental streak. Unsurprisingly, the person I am most critical of is myself.
I have a deep emotional reservoir which I can tap into effortlessly. While I lead with my intellect, I am probably best known, personally and professionally, for my adeptness at exploring my own feelings and my eerie intuition in many areas of life. I’m not scared of what I feel (though fear is sometimes one of those feelings) and I’m not ashamed to share it. Similarly, I am often encouraging of others to express how they feel, drawing it out of them and giving them a safe place to share. Since empathy is the core of my work, I find it easy and necessary to be present in this space, and get enormous satisfaction out of building bridges between people who find they share common ground emotionally even when they may be worlds apart cognitively.
As such, I put a tremendous amount of effort in establishing and maintaining personal and professional relationships with a diverse group of people worldwide. I draw inspiration from them daily and give of myself freely and openly. But save for a few close friends from high school and college, I don’t let very many people in. I am incredibly close with my parents, though our relationship has been tumultuous at times. All families have their challenges, but our intense dynamic continues to infiltrate me in profound ways. Only since turning 30 have I finally begun to let the past go and write a new narrative for myself.
Six months ago, my boyfriend and I sold or threw away almost all of our belongings and left New York City for the Florida Keys. He quit a lucrative IT job and is now pursuing his captain’s license while working as a mate for a charter sailboat company. I’m testing the theory of location independence, flying to see my clients as necessary, and flying home to paradise. It has been renewing for both of us to say the least, and I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else.
My boyfriend is my rock, accepts me for exactly who I am, and is slowly teaching me how to accept myself. He’s a macho man with the world’s biggest heart, a lifelong angler, a gourmet cook, and an amateur race car driver. We have diametrically opposed personalities, but hold the same values. We are truly each other’s match in mind, heart and body. There is never a dull moment between us.
But no one can be your everything. It would do me heaps of good to have my own coach to help me focus on self-care and self-love. I am constantly feeding my mind and am deeply attuned to my emotional state, but I have often fallen short of taking care of my body with kindness. My spiritual journey has been profound but inconsistent, as I allow the natural fluctuations of my business to dictate my daily schedule. As a result, I fail to maintain any routine that accounts for regular meditation, exercise, predictable meals, and the like. I am well-versed in how my body communicates its pains and overuse, and am fairly good at responding to it by giving it what it needs, but I can’t say that I’ve done a good enough job paying attention to its rhythms to know how to prevent error rather than just recover from it.
My conflation of spirituality and somatics is deliberate. If my body is my temple, then its lack of maintenance could be to blame for the incessant feeling I have that “belonging” is just out of reach. While my pursuits and purpose are thoroughly in service to the universe and for the benefit of all humankind, I am still inclined to measure success by materialistic means. I have spent years trying to rid myself of this burden, unsuccessfully.
All of these ways of being are integrated in my daily life, each with varying volume depending on context. There are times of day, environments, people, circumstances, etc. in which I have greater awareness of and adherence to cognition or emotion or somatics or relationships or spirituality, while the others become quieter but never muted. When it’s time to make a decision, I find myself consulting with all five intelligences, as they each have something unique to say. They are, after all, all a part of me.
We are whole human beings with one self, not a work self and home self, personal self and professional self. I believe that way of thinking about who we are and how we show up in the world is incredibly damaging to our society. People end up forging relationships with “parts” of people, failing to see all of their facets because they’ve been obscured. This breeds apathy, dehumanization, and demoralization. Our bonds are weaker, our collective force less effective.
Integral living leads to integral community leads to integral civilization. That’s the world I want to live in, and that’s the world I aim to create.
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Jody Ferry says
Put me in coach! I’m ready to play.
Mark Stanley says
We work in different fields but we share a desire to leave a longer lasting imprint of our values and methods with our clients. I think coaching your clients is the right thing to do – I just wish there was a better word than “coach” for the kind of enduring change you will be helping your clients achieve. …good luck with the course :-)
Kyle Soucy says
I love how you share so much of your life (i.e. journey) with us. I wish you much success in this wonderful new endeavor!
Love this post, and the thoughts you continue to share through your blog. Congrats on New Ventures West!
You are such an amazing person, Whitney! Thanks for sharing your ideas, your path, your dreams, your fears, and your loves with all of us – and I wish you all the best with your next steps. If I can help in any way, count me in. I’ll even wear a “Team Whitney” t-shirt!
I know this comment is a year late, but I just had to say how much I feel exactly the same as you. Introvert with few connections, yep. Family issues, yep. Trying to write a new narrative, yep. Lacking in the self-care area, yep. Would be interested to read a follow-up post a year later and see how you’ve fared. Any positive changes you’ve managed to implement? Your journey into being a life coach is inspiring.
Whitney Hess says
Vanessa, I’m sorry I’m so late to reply, but that’s in part because coaching is going so well! You can read all about my adventures at these posts: http://whitneyhess.com/blog/tag/coaching
Thank you so much for your interest. It feels good to know there are people out there who feel the same.